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Wine Corks. . . 3 Facts Every Wine Drinker Should Know.

Photo courtesy of Lusso Della Terra Cellars

Pop goes the wine! Edward Cholakian of Lusso Della Terra demystifies the powers of the humble wine cork.

Sunsets. Kittens. The smell of real buttered popcorn—it’s really about the little things in life, isn’t it? There may not be a wine industry instrument smaller (or more massively important) than the humble wine cork.

Before you discard that teeny topper and swirl your glass, I urge you to take a closer look at the mighty, multitasking topper. What you find might surprise you.

1. It pays to be a cork dork

Talking to Lusso Della Terra Cellars Winemaker Edward Cholakian about  wine corks is a lot like talking to a “car guy” about engine parts. The proud “cork geek” lives by the quality of 49-millimeter natural cork supplied by industry leader Amorim.

“They perform rigorous testing, cork by cork, to guarantee there are no issues and to avoid bad corks ever touching our wine,” Cholakian says. “The cork is the one thing touching that wine besides the glass—This is why it is so incredibly important to invest in good corks.”

It’s the same way with cars. You would probably cover your Lamborghini with a custom tarp during rough weather, right? Not so much with the banged up RV. A good rule of thumb: If you want to know just how serious a winemaker is about his or her wines, ask about the cork. If you get a blank look, the wine may not be up to snuff. Receive a passionate response? You’re on the right track.

2. Aging gracefully

Photo courtesy of Lusso Della Terra Cellars

No bigger than the size of your thumb, the cork is surprisingly powerful. They allow wine to age as we all wish to do: as gracefully as possible. But how exactly does a cork perform this nuanced magic?

“Corks allow air to touch the wine over time, and the cheaper the cork, the less consistently this happens,” Chokalian says.

This is the main reason why so many Paso Robles area wineries, Cass Winery, Sextant Winery and others, are springing for the best natural corks money can buy. While some new synthetic wine corks are hitting the market with claims of more reliable air permeation—in general—you really do get what you pay for.

Cheap, synthetic corks have been linked to premature oxidation (tragic) as well as the absorption of off-putting flavors (utterly devastating). Comparatively, a good quality natural cork “allows for more stable aging,” according to Chokalain.

Sorry, synthetic corks: we aren’t fooled. And our $50 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon deserves better.

3. Part of the experience

That logo-emblazoned wine cork is more than just a perfect keepsake to remember your last visit to Burbank Ranch Winery or a cool afternoon spent at Cayucos Cellars and Harmony Cellars (Tip: Display a bevvy of corks in a large glass jar for an awesome dinner party centerpiece).

There’s also the “allure of the wine cork,” which I’m sure you’ve already heard all about (no eye rolling, missy!). Well, there’s something to all that flowery lingo. Just ask Steve Gleason, winemaker/owner at Four Lanterns Winery.

“There is a romance there, when you pull back the cork and get that ‘pop’ sound,” Gleason says. “It’s a fun sound. People love it.”

The winemaker goes with high-grade natural cork to match his high quality, ultra-boutique wines. Although Gleason doesn’t have a beef with screw tops per se (their convenience have a time and place), he chose not to bottle his small-batch Rhônes with the cheaper alternative.

“People should get a high-quality cork that matches the wine,” Gleason says. “A certain small percentage of all wine is going to be corked, no matter who makes the wine, so it’s important to always aim to use the best cork available.”

We agree with Gleason: We want to get what we pay for, and there is something special about the whole experience. Is there anything better than sinking a sharp corkscrew into a superb bottle of wine, pulling up and hearing that exuberant sound?

This, my friends, is celebration in a single word.

Cheers to you, little cork. May your days be long lived.

This post was written by Hayley Thomas, food and wine writer for SLO New Times and She can be reached at [email protected]

Here are some wineries that live and die by their corks:

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